Joe Stack: Kamikaze patriot or domestic terrorist?


Joseph Stack’s suicidal act of flying his light plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, seems to have vanished quickly from the horizons of the media. Nobody in the public sphere wants to dwell on the implications of what he did that day: setting fire to his home, destroying all his property and his own person. His act was relegated to the realm of madness, outside that of everyday experience and “normal” guys.

But his suicide statement, which is articulate and meaningful, makes it clear that Stack was not crazy. What did he want? Something quite simple: security in retirement. He had learned early in life not to trust corporations for his retirement needs, after US Steel raided pension funds in the 1980s. He resolved to build his own personal fortune by becoming an independent contractor as an engineer, which he believed entitled him to tax relief – just like the “big boys.” After all, the ideal of individual independence is fundamental to the U.S. national psyche.

His plans were destroyed: first by the IRS in the 80s, then the L.A. depression of the early ‘90s, divorce, the dot.com bust and 9/11, a failed move to Texas, then prosecution by the IRS for undeclared income. It reads like a contemporary history of failed dreams. He felt powerless in the face of a government agency that was unable to deal with the super-rich, who stash all their money off-shore to avoid paying a dime to the common wealth, but would pursue small proprietors with utmost ruthlessness.

Finally he decided he could not take any more and had to make a stand, had to add his body to the count of those “dying for freedom.”

So: terrorist or patriot?

Robert Weiner, former spokesman for the White House National Drug Policy office and the U.S. House Government Operations Committee, has no doubts about it. “He’s a domestic terrorist.  He wrote a confirmed suicide note saying he was mad at his tax bill, the national health care stalemate, and the bailout helping corporations and not people.  He opposed the government and our laws, and flew a plane into a federal building to make his point.  If that’s not terrorism, what is?” he asked.

But Stack was not as politically specific as Weiner implies. What he was expressing was a general, inchoate resentment about the government and state precisely because it did not match up to what he was taught government should be. He believed that he had the right to accrue wealth like the big corporations, and his problem was not only that he was prevented from doing so, he was being punished for attempting to do so while the directors of major corporations and banks were being rewarded even after embezzling public funds. It was the principle of equality before the law which was being broken, that of “justice for all”.

As Paul Craig Roberts points out, the gap between government and governed is as large today as the gap between England and its colonies in the eighteenth century. “Anger is building up. People are beginning to do unusual things. Terry Hoskins bulldozed his house rather than allow a bank to foreclose on it. The local TV station conducted an online survey and found that 79 per cent of respondents agreed with Hoskins’ action.”

Joe Stack spoke for an undercurrent of populist rage that is building up, unseen in its full dimensions, but which cannot be channeled by teabaggers, Republicans, or an increasingly corrupt political system. The social contract is broken. It is a portent of the future, in its own way a message of patriotic despair.

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3 Comments

Filed under political analysis, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Joe Stack: Kamikaze patriot or domestic terrorist?

  1. Montana

    Andrew Joseph Stack was nothing but a coward, to his family, to god, to our country. Boo, hoo, hoo, I have money problems and its not my fault, it the big bad government. This domestic (white trailer trash) terrorist who first burned his house and crashed his plane into a building during business hours and killed Vernon Hunter a 27 year Federal employee and 20 year veteran of the US Army with two tours in the Vietnam War.

  2. tompainesghost

    I don’t condone Stack’s actions; neither do I write him off as a moral pariah. I wrote this post to draw attention to the deeply symbolic nature of what he did. He could have simply bought a gun and committed suicide or walked into an IRS office and opened fire, and he would not have been the first to have done this. However, he deliberately chose to evoke the memory of 9/11 by flying a plane into an IRS building. The meaning of this symbolism is explained in his suicide note: he believed in the system, in the American way. Every time he failed, he got right back up again, working 100-hour weeks to restore the retirement savings he had lost. He considered that the government should have been upholding the rights of the individual, but instead was bailing out executives who asset-stripped companies and destroyed jobs, while victimizing independent proprietors like himself. This is why I described his actions as the work of a despairing patriot, rather than that of someone implacably opposed to the U.S. state.

  3. Ms. Harriet

    Colonel D.-

    The troubled times in which we find ourselves need voices that like yours are unafraid to search for the truth behind the demagoguery and manipulation of reality through information, which as Noam Chomsky has analyzed more brilliantly than anyone, manufactures the consent of the governed. As he notes “A more accurate version is that the more ‘free and popular’ a government, the more it becomes necessary to rely on control of opinion to ensure submission to the rulers.”

    I submit to you and your readers that nothing in Joe Stark’s education and life experienced prepared him for the shock of the realization that all his efforts –the 100 + hour weeks, the bouts with the IRS, the wiping out of savings and retirement– all his life’s work went to support a government that for many years now has stopped representing the interests of the average middle-class American.

    Undoubtedly this thought has also crossed through the minds of thousands of Americans. The populist wave on which Obama sailed to the White House, and which continues to resonate in the Tea Party movement (and now a new Coffee Party movement), burst forth from this sentiment. Thankfully not all citizens who have thought it have flown a plane into a government building. Most of us join a movement like the Tea Party or the Coffee Party, sign petitions, demonstrate, or otherwise seek lawful means of protest.

    We should continue seeking such means; to me Martin Luther King is the greatest example of the power of non-violent demonstration. Yet we explain Stack’s actions as madness at our peril, since his act shows how the feeling of the government’s betrayal of the American people
    has intensified to the point where an individual will take his own life and the lives of others. For Stack, the latest bout of unemployment was the tipping point.

    How many American lives are headed towards the same tipping point? Meanwhile, people like Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) block the vote on measures “to extend unemployment insurance, COBRA health benefits and a handful of other expiring programs for one month” as the Washington Post reports today: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2010/02/jobs-agenda-stalls-at-both-end.html?wprss=44

    Nero famously fiddled while Rome burned. And who set the fire?

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